Dorothy Bendel
Murmuration

                                                       Starlings move across the sky in black

                            clouds, a massive organism made of tiny heartbeats. A girl walks

                                                        away from her home when backs are turned, until she

                            no longer recognizes the houses set on manicured lawns, until a surge of

                cold air pricks the plumage at the nape of her neck. Some starlings migrate

long distances, some stick close to familiar lands to roost. The girl watches

             starlings fly closer, then farther, and thinks of the vacuum that terrified

               her when she was little, how it moved but went nowhere, yet devoured

                         everything in its path. The girl recalls how she dreamed of vacuuming

                          up her father, his body flattening and elongating the closer she moved

                         toward him, the terrible contraption roaring, until his entire body

             disappeared under the machine's rectangular head. She remembers

how, in his last moment, she heard a soft peep—like an accidentally stepped-on

mouse—echo through the vast living room, clean. Starlings, to the girl, seem

             brave because they are one but not alone. The girl leaves home for good

      when she is no longer afraid of the vacuum, or her father, when one more open

hand pushes her out of her nest, to fall for a boy who moves along the edges

             of sky where the air is thin. The girl and the boy land wherever they

                          please, relying on neurons and hitched rides to migrate from one

temporary shelter to another. A couch in a crowded

        apartment. An attic in an abandoned house where

             the windows crack open to spiders and stars. The girl and the boy laugh

when they talk about animals choosing to be still, hum low as they purl

        into each other and out again, whisper as though they are being

                 hunted. Like humans, birds have four-chambered hearts. Smaller birds

                       tend to have larger hearts, unlike humans. The girl presses her

                                 hand to her chest when the walls close in and she cannot

                            breathe. A heart murmur is

                          a stutter, a moaning, imperfection. The girl adjusts, takes

                 refuge among others with clipped wings, takes furniture

      from the street, accepts kindness when she can find it. The girl dresses

                up a crumbling apartment while the boy flicks cigarette ashes on

      the floor and murmurs what he thinks she won't hear, his iridescence

                    waning. The girl thinks of her great-grandmother cradling her

                          suitcase across an ocean under the same sky, the trill of

    her heart as she drifted toward L’Isola dell Lagrime—Island of Tears–to a strange

          land where she would lose her name but never the music of her mother

tongue. Starlings sing to entice, to warn. They sometimes mimic

        other birds. Their appearance can change without

                fully molting. The girl sings to herself, tries

           to see the faraway shore. Starlings will scavenge and eat

almost anything. They invade crevices to nest. Starlings are often viewed as pests or

         bullies who mistreat other birds. The boy’s feathers turn

                                      dark. Starling's Law describes the heart's

                      stroke volume increasing when blood volume increases

              in the heart's ventricles. The girl feels an invisible

hand pressing her down, like gravity on

      a fledgling. For starlings to move as one in

                a boundless ballet, they must be socially cooperative. The girl knows

she must leave, even if she must leave alone in the night, with only a bus ticket in

       hand, with less than when she arrived. In 1890, a pharmacist

                named Eugene Schieffelin released sixty starlings in Central Park

                    in an attempt to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare's work

                             to America. They weren't expected to survive.

Dorothy Bendel’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Catapult, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, The New York Times, and additional publications. She is currently working on an essay collection. See more of her work at dorothybendel.com and follow her: @DorothyBendel